As I’m doing more and more research to try and figure out where to best spend my next year, it’s been slightly overwhelming to find so many different interpretations of “sustainable agriculture”. What is really the “best” paradigm? Permaculture? Agroecology? Holistic management? Sustainable intensification? Can one even say there is one and only “best” strategy? I am coming to believe the answer is no – we need all knowledge that is out there and adapt it to specific contexts. And just to cement that point, let me present to you one more concept – that of climate-smart agriculture [this links to a really informative website!].
We know that agriculture is both a major driver of climate change and one sector that will be seriously influenced by coming changes. Climate-smart agriculture, a concept that was introduced to the international community and rapidly picked up by the World Bank as one of their focus areas in the realms of food security and sustainable agriculture, faces those challenges by striving to strengthen resilience, boost yields and improve the carbon footprint of food production, particularly in emerging countries.
[check out this hilariously dynamic video by the WB; I particularly appreciated the swirling letters as well as the music:]
In practice, the concept strives to combine traditional knowledge with new (particularly knowledge-based) innovations. According to the World Bank’s presentation, practices include “mulching, intercropping, conservation agriculture, crop rotation, integrated crop-livestock management, agro-forestry, improved grazing, and improved water management. CSA also includes innovative practices such as better weather forecasting, drought- and flood-tolerant crops and risk insurance.“
They showcase a number of fascinating projects, including ‘evergreen agriculture‘ (which sounds a lot like agroforestry) that integrates trees, in particular Faidherbia albida trees, an indigenous African acacia, with food crops. It’s a tree that binds nitrogen from the air and transfers it to its roots and leaves, which finally benefits soil health; also, its growth cycle runs countercyclical to the major food crops (it sheds its leaves at the same time the food crops start to thrive), which means it doesn’t compete with them for nutrients (this is called ‘reverse leaf phenology’). This practice has allowed farmers to increase crop yields by as much as 30% without the use of expensive chemical fertilizer! In addition, evergreen agriculture can increase rainwater use efficiency by up to 380 percent, capture and store up to 4 tons of carbon per hectare annually, and reduce up to 3.5 tons of CO2 -equivalent emissions per hectare per year.
Other examples (aggregated in this pdf) of World Bank – funded projects in the realms of climate-smart agriculture include:
- The Kenya Agriculture Carbon Project, which seeks to support around 60,000 farmers in carbon sequestration activities such as “reduced tillage, cover crops, residue management, mulching, composting, green manure, targeted application of fertilizers, reduced biomass burning and agroforestry” and subsequently reward the farmers by linking them to organizations that buy such carbon credits such as the BioCarbon Fund;
- The Land Husbandry, Water Harvesting and Hillside Irrigation Project in Rwanda, which intends to prevent hillside erosion caused by rainfall (common in Rwanda) by encouraging terracing practices, improving the soil under cultivation, managing water runoff and in some cases developing irrigation systems. It also strives to help farmers create farmer groups and to connect them to credit.
- The Humbo Assisted Natural Regeneration Project in Ethiopia, which established seven forest cooperatives on Humbo mountain to restore over-exploited forest resources which were vital for the area’s potable water availability. Within the project, over 90% of the area was reforested, restoring the production of wood and forestry products that could help stimulate the local economy such as honey and fruit. The project was also the first large-scale forestry project in Africa to be registered with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
- The Ethiopian government’s LEAP (Livelihoods – Early Assessment – Protection) program, which is an innovative combination of various risk management tools to prevent food insecurity stemming from extreme weather events. The program uses software and new technological advancements to “combine early assessment, early warning, contingency planning and capacity building with contingent finance and a software platform that provides an estimate of the funding needs in the event of a weather shock.” This is a great example of the new, knowledge-based innovations the climate-smart agriculture framework also talked about.
- The Coastal Wetlands Protection and Development Project in Vietnam, which aimed to restore the country’s mangrove buffer to protect coastal areas better from flooding and to fight erosion. According to the WB, “combined with other forestry activities implemented by the Government of Vietnam in the project area, more than 95 percent of barren areas in the full protected zones have now been reforested“.
- Community-Managed Sustainable Agriculture projects in India, where farmer groups are trained in non-pesticide farm management techniques that allow them to lower their costs of production while maintaining yields and increasing soil fertility. Starting in 2005 with 350 farmers on 162 hectares, by 2010, these techniques had been scaled up to being implemented by 738,000 farmers on 715,314 hectares. The government of the Indian state where this is happening, Andhra Pradesh, recently announced its intention to scale up this approach to make the state entirely free of chemical pesticides.
- The Three Rivers Project in Qinghai province, China, uses a carbon financing scheme to restore grasslands and improve livestock productivity in the North-West of the country. This is a seriously long-term project (with results expected within 10 years) that aims to encourage herders to reduce their herd size (and tackle overstocking) by accounting for the lost income in the initial period. The forecast is that “after 10 years, it will be possible to increase herd size on the restored grasslands while continuing with sustainable grazing management. Increased availability of forage will enable more productive livestock and higher incomes, providing an incentive for long-term sustainable land management. It is hoped that this model can break the vicious cycle of overstocking and land degradation and demonstrate sustainable management options, while generating a reduction of approximately 500,000 tons of CO2–equivalent, over 10 years.“
- Silvopastoral approaches to farming in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, which transform degraded pastures with one species of grass into complex agroforestry systems that integrate forest fragments, live fences, riparian forests and trees dispersed in pastures, and pay for the effort of transformation through buying up carbon credits.
Phew, what a long list, eh? Overall, I have to say that I am impressed with the focus on non-input intensive techniques and rather the knowledge-sharing and information-spreading focus; that is not what my simplistic opinion of the World Bank’s general modus operandi would have predicted! Climate-smart agriculture is also nice in its inclusiveness of multiple techniques and approaches, it seems a nice all-encompassing framework to think about agriculture in times of climatic change. A cool new concept to discover, for sure!
Had you heard about climate-smart agriculture before? What do you think about the idea?